ACF Blog

ACF Leadership Blog


Opinions, thoughts and ideas from the leaders of the Arizona Community Foundation, Arizona’s largest statewide philanthropic grantmaker.

Dagoberto Robles, ACF scholarship recipient

A strong scholarship essay can make or break an application. Read through our team’s advice on how to write scholarship essays that stick. We’ve also included a sneak peek of the essay questions for ACF’s 2022 application.

Tips for writing a top-notch scholarship essay

Think before you write

Brainstorming is a beautiful thing! Thinking through ideas or creating an outline of your essay before you begin will help you stay focused when answering essay prompts. 

Be positive, truthful, and descriptive

Scholarship reviewers want to get to know you through your essay, so your writing should sound like you. This is also your chance to tell us what makes you so great--don’t be shy!

Reflect on your life goals and career aspirations

We want to learn more about the goals that a scholarship will help you achieve. You may not have a detailed five-year career plan, and that’s okay! Just make sure to address future ambitions. You could talk about your dream job, your volunteer plans, or even the kind of person you’d like to become. 

Share your unique story

Everyone has a motivation that drives them to achieve their goals--what’s yours? It may be a role model in your life, a formative experience, a social cause you feel passionately about, or something else that makes you, you. Using examples, stories, and descriptive language will help you make a strong impression on readers. If you’re too vague or use generalizations, your reader will likely lose interest. 

Check for spelling errors

You’ve heard it once, and you’ll hear it a hundred more times. Read through your essay carefully for any spelling errors to make sure it looks thoughtful and professional. 

Have a friend or family member read your responses for grammatical errors

Even the most talented editors need a second set of eyes to check their work. Ask someone who you know will give your scholarship essay the time and attention it deserves. 

Scholarship essay questions

Put these tips to the test!

In your online application, you will complete three essay questions. Each essay question has three prompts to choose from, all related to the same theme.

The essay questions for the ACF 2022 scholarship application are below. Read them closely, think through your answers, and jot down your thoughts when you find inspiration! You’ll be ready to go when the application opens. 

Essay question #1 | resilience & persistence

Selects one of the prompts below: (250 words)

  • Talk about a time you failed at something. How did it affect you?
  • What is something about which you have changed your mind in the last three years? Tell us what that experience was like.
  • Describe different ways you seek to step outside of your comfort zone and challenge the world views you hold.

Essay question #2 | future forward & changing the world: 

Selects one of the prompts below: (250 words)

  • What is a community service or extracurricular activity that has meaningful to you?
  • What is one thing every high school student should learn before they graduate?
  • Describe one change you would like to make in your community.

Essay question #3 | creativity & personality:

Selects one of the prompts below: (250 words)

  • Create your own top five list and explain why you chose what you did. (Hint: pick something you love and give your top five- for example, top five memories of your life, top five favorite books, or top five quotes. The more specific your list is, the better.)
  • If you could meet with any person—living or dead—for an hour, who would it be and what would you say to them?
  • Think back to a time when learning was pure joy. Tell us your favorite book you read during your childhood and explain why it’s meaningful to you.

Mark your calendars to apply for scholarships

Set a reminder to start your ACF scholarship application on January 1, 2022 and bookmark the online portal at The online portal contains more than 200 college scholarships available to students. By completing one application, you’ll be automatically matched with available scholarships for which you’re eligible. 

If you have questions about the application, please contact the ACF Scholarship Team.

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Given the tragic events of recent weeks, from Georgia to Central Park to Minneapolis, many of us are struggling to find the right words. 

Words that are comforting, compassionate, and unifying. Words that will help heal the wounds and anguish exploding across our country. 

What are the right words to express our deeply shared beliefs about equity, fairness, civil rights, and a civil society? What are the right words to address the insidious and destructive impact of racism on our communities, our families, and our children? 

So, we are left with this: We are beyond words. We must act.

We, as a community, cannot let this moment pass. We have done that too many times before. Just look at how that has worked for us. The evidence is clear.  It has not. 

Inaction gives license to repeating the destructive patterns of the past. Only through action-- action that directly addresses the ills that brought us to this day--can we change the cycle, and break this dreadful pattern.  

Therefore, we will act, using all the tools we have:  from grantmaking to convenings, from scholarships to targeted community initiatives, from providing safe space for all voices in the communities we serve to getting behind emerging community leaders across neighborhoods, backgrounds, races, genders, and faiths. 

We will join with our many donors to support their interests in eliminating inequality and racism, and investing in nonprofit organizations who can bring our communities, our public institutions, and our fellow citizens together to heal. We will act to make our communities and relationships with one another palpably better. 

We will not repeat the patterns of the past.  We will not walk away from this moment. 

We will stand for and with all communities as community is our middle name. We will serve it, all of it, as it is, with respect, dignity, fairness, and equity. We will deny no one our services or grants based on personal preferences, biases, worldview, or politics. And if we discover that we are not properly serving a particular community, need, or group, we will change our practices to ensure that we do. 

That’s what a community foundation does. We help put grief, anger, compassion, empathy and words into action. We convene on the tough questions. We support and invest in those seeking solutions. 

For more than four decades, the Arizona Community Foundation has embodied the mission “To lead, serve, and collaborate to mobilize enduring philanthropy for a better Arizona.”

We cannot lay claim to a better Arizona until it is better for all of us.

Steve Seleznow
President & CEO
Steve Evans
Board Chair
Robbin Coulon
Vice Board Chair

After making this pledge, ACF has taken the following actions:

The actions listed are intended to provide transparency and exemplify our commitment to this ongoing work.

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Each day, students find the courage and strength to continue on the path to their dreams. They are seeking change through choosing to pursue higher education. Each student experiences a unique and powerful journey when they apply for scholarships through ACF. 

When Carter Johnson began his college career, he felt like he'd finally found his place: somewhere he could focus on his love of biology, his in-depth knowledge of animals and wildlife, and his passion for American Sign Language. This sense of belonging meant a lot to Carter, especially because he began attending community college at just 14 years old.

Carter is now attending his second semester at Arizona State University's West campus to obtain a bachelor's degree in biology. In addition to his studies, Carter has internships at three different wildlife rehabilitation centers, including the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary, Wild at Heart Raptors, and Liberty Wildlife. These opportunities have been exceptional in providing Carter with hands-on experience, encouraging him to assist in surgeries and physical therapy for the animals.

Through his internships, Carter performs educational outreach programs on conservation and wildlife. He has presented to veterinarian schools, fire departments, and elementary schools.

His work in the community has already made a huge impact. At only 17 years old, Carter already receives calls from animal hospitals asking him how to properly care for exotic animals.

He's also actively pursuing his American Sign Language certification. He currently teaches a free ASL class to anyone in the community once a week. He has 45 students attend his class. His goal is for the deaf community to have more ways of communicating.

In 2019, Carter received the Swift Transportation Scholarship, which is managed by the Arizona Community Foundation. In his note thanking Swift Transportation, Carter talked about the sense of relief and gratitude the scholarships brought him and his family:

"This scholarship is so important to me because it is my way of helping my parents. They have made so many sacrifices to get me where I am today."

As Carter looks to the future, he dreams of continuing to medical school. He wants to become a doctor, while still making a difference in conservation efforts by volunteering his extensive knowledge on the subject.

If you are inspired by Carter's story and ready to pursue your dreams, head to our online scholarship application. The deadlines for ACF scholarships are March 15 and May 15, 2020. We recommend submitting your application by the March 15 deadline so you can be matched with as many scholarships as possible.

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By Joy Klein, Director of Scholarships / January 22, 2020
Each day, students find the courage and strength to continue on the path to their dreams. They are seeking change through choosing to pursue higher education. Each student experiences a unique and powerful journey when they apply for scholarships through ACF. 


Albert Alan's aspirations are boundless, and he has the hard evidence to prove it. In 2017, he earned not one, not two, but three concurrent degrees from the University of Arizona. This foundation in physiology, sociology, and neuroscience landed Albert in UArizona's Pre-Medical Admissions Pathway program, where he's pursuing an M.S. in Cellular Molecular Medicine and an M.D. degree. Albert plans to become one of 3,700 practicing board-certified neurosurgeons.

That's not to say that Albert's journey to his dream career has been an easy one. At age 15, he was navigating homelessness and fighting for his right to survive. Tutoring his high school classmates ignited a spark in Albert, driving him to apply for college in 2011. After enrolling at UArizona, his academic success and involvement in the community continued to grow. Deeply affected by his experiences living on the street and without a consistent food source, Albert dedicated three years to the Borderlands Produce Rescue, a nonprofit that reduces food waste by redistributing thousands of pounds of fresh produce every week.

Among many awards and accolades, Albert received the Guinn B. Burton Medical Scholarship and the Phoenix Pride Scholarship, both of which are managed through ACF. As a scholarship recipient, Albert is passionate about serving as a model for other high schools students who face oppressive challenges. 

At a storytelling event in 2018, Albert shared his advice to students: 

“Show that even if you get knocked down and keep getting knocked down, you get back up. That’s how you measure success. You keep getting back up.”

If you are inspired by Albert's story and ready to pursue your dreams, head to our online scholarship application. The deadlines for ACF scholarships are March 15 and May 15, 2020. We recommend submitting your application by the March 15 deadline so you can be matched with as many scholarships as possible.

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By Steve Seleznow, President & CEO / September 25, 2018
The Arizona Community Foundation supports quality education for all students, but that aspiration is not achievable within an education system that our state’s leaders and citizens have long neglected. When our public and charter school teachers stopped going to work; when superintendents shut down their districts; and when instead teachers, accompanied by students and their parents, showed up en masse at the State Capitol, the lesson was clear: the system isn’t working.

Arizona’s teacher labor market broke under the weight of leaders who, for decades, failed to confront the brutal facts about funding public education in order to build long-term, sustainable solutions that could have supported teachers and schools. We need to recognize where we have fallen short, put an end to our history of solving education problems using quick fixes and episodic ballot measures, and develop long-term solutions and strategic approaches to school finance.

To move forward, ACF and the Rodel Foundation of Arizona funded an analysis of Arizona’s teacher labor market, conducted by Education Resource Strategies, a highly respected nonprofit data analytics firm. The key findings of the study are a powerful testament to the need for immediate change, confirming that:

  • Arizona struggles to attract and retain a strong and effective teacher workforce.
  • Low teacher salaries are a primary challenge leading to this unhealthy teacher labor market.
  • Arizona’s funding mechanisms and market incentives are inadequate.
  • Addressing the teacher workforce challenge will require new and strategic investments.

Ignoring basic facts and data led us to a point where 80% of Arizona teachers reported low pay as the main reason they left the profession, compared to less than 10% nationally; where it takes a quarter of a century for many of our teachers to earn a living wage; where our teachers in public and charter schools walked out of their classrooms, not as part of a labor dispute, but rather to bring public attention to the desperate situation they were in—a situation helped, but not solved, by the 20% increase in salaries over the next three years.

We cannot continue to ignore a problem that has been years in the making. We need a strategy, vision, and revenue stream to support a healthy and robust teacher labor market. Our hope is that this analysis will be used to inform future strategies to fix Arizona’s teacher labor market and support schools and teachers in ways that lead to real, measurable, and sustainable improvements.

Read the full Arizona State Funding Project: Addressing the Teacher Labor Market Challenge report here. We encourage you to use the data to set the stage for learning, discussion, and debates that will help us build strategies for future funding, incentives, and innovative solutions. Arizona teachers found their voice this year, and we owe it to them to listen and enact meaningful change. We believe this deep analysis of the facts can lead to a long-term funding strategy that provides the support our teachers and students deserve and makes Arizona’s education system worthy of respect and admiration.

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